Immigration and Group Norms

Arnold Kling’s essay on “Libertarianism and Group Norms” raises important issues. I have some sympathy with where Kling is going, very little with where he is coming from. Kling’s thesis:

I think it is unwise to dismiss altogether the case for group loyalty and adherence to group norms. My inclination is to approve of organizations that promote group objectives and attempt to limit individual choices, as long as participation in these organizations is voluntary. However, within libertarian thought, there are very different points of view as to whether or not the pressure to conform to group norms is morally justified.

He cites a lot of libertarian-friendly thinkers, including Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ayn Rand, and Friedrich Hayek, to show that libertarians are historically divided on the issue of “group norms.” To me, Kling seems to conflate group norms with morality. In other words, he presupposes that our morality is socialized, rather than that there is a real right and wrong which we perceive, sometimes of course with imperfect accuracy. For example, he writes that: “An important way to achieve status within a group is to adhere to and defend its norms.” Why not say that an important way to achieve status in a group is to practice virtue? Presumably because he thinks “virtue” is whatever the group says it is, so that to replace the words “practice virtue” with the words “adhere to and defend [a group’s] norms” is a way to avoid naivete. Note also this definition of morality, which Kling approvingly cites from Jonathan Haidt:

Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible. Continue reading Immigration and Group Norms

The Age of National Socialism

When I was 19, I had an idea of writing a history of the 20th century called The Age of National Socialism. I recalled it the other day and was surprised that it still seems like a good idea. Since then I’ve been through several churches and a religious conversion, married and divorced, changed my views on natural rights, gone from Gandhian pacifist to Bush Republican and now to pox-on-both-their-houses apolitical, yet on this issue at least, it’s surprising how consistent I’ve been. I think the reason is that I thought deeply about politics in my teens, and while on many very big questions reflection causes one to see multiple sides, on the topic of immigration, there’s only one right answer, which soon becomes clear beyond evasion. Not that the book I had in mind was just about immigration.

The thesis was basically this: that the 20th century was the age of national socialism, in three varieties: (1) welfare-state democracy, (2) fascism/Nazism, (3) the ‘socialism-in-one-country’ that was established in the Soviet Union after the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution to spread globally, and which then became the model for other socialist societies. All three were governments “of the people” in somewhat different senses. For the Soviets, “the people” mean the proletariat, as against the bourgeoisie; for the Nazis, “the people” mean the Volk, the ethnic nation, as against external and internal “aliens”; while the semi-liberal democracies of the West didn’t define the people in novel, ideological ways and still contrasted them, if anything, to the monarchs and ruling aristocracies of a bygone age. But all of them gave a kind of sacral value to “the people,” and exercised unprecedentedly pervasive power in their name, and all more or less played down the rights of individuals, though of course they fared better in the semi-liberal democracies of the West than elsewhere. By partitioning the world into well-defined sovereign nation-states– the label world apartheid is, I think, a fairly accurate characterization of this system, though in some contexts one would want to avoid the phrase so as not to give offense– the national socialists of various stripes created an unprecedented degree of inequality in wealth and freedom among the members of the human race.

The title of the putative book expresses the hope that ‘the age of national socialism’ won’t last forever. Individual rights, humanitarianism and justice may make a comeback, and perhaps in a couple of generations the idea that it is tolerable to exclude a person from a country because of his place of birth will rightly seem as weird and wicked as it seems to us today to exclude a black man from a restaurant on the ground of the color of his skin. The all-powerful nation-state may find itself hemmed in and hamstrung on all sides, curtailed from below by empowered local governments and civil disobedience and churches and newly enlightened social norms, from the side by global financial markets and treaty obligations and international NGOs, from above by a stronger UN (sorry, libertarians) and other international agencies, which may perhaps enjoy growing popular legitimacy. Anyway, I doubt I’ll write it anytime soon, so anyone who likes is welcome to take the idea and run with it.

The Right to Invite

I have often written about the right to migrate (or see here) but what about the right to invite? Foreigners aren’t the only ones who suffer by migration restrictions. Natives suffer from being blocked from interacting with foreigners. Recently, a choir I sing in was bereft of a brilliant accompanist when her visa expired. It would be interesting to know, if the government charged a fee to let her stay, how much could have been raised in donations to keep her. I really have no idea, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were $10,000 or more. Considerable effort was exerted in calling the congressman, talking to lawyers, and whatnot. But of course, there’s little we could do. I suspect that affluent Americans in the 19th century would have been astounded at the idea of a government blocking them from inviting whatever foreigners they want. They would have disdained to recognize as “free” any people so cowardly and supine that they tolerated a regime that interfered with such a basic amenity of a prosperous life as the ability to snap up foreign talent at will. Not to get too personal, but I have often considered emigrating so that foreign friends could come visit at will. I once took a job in Africa for a couple of months so that my then-fiancee (actually the story’s a little more complicated but never mind) from Russia could come to see me. And I might have been remarried a few years ago if a certain lady in St. Petersburg had been permitted to visit America. (Yes, there’s a fiancee visa, but she’d rather see the country first before taking the plunge.)

As I wrote back in 2006:

Democracy is a good system of government because the people who live under laws get to have a say in making them. In this sense, immigration restrictions are the limiting case of undemocratic law: the set of people who get to make them is the exact inverse of the set of people who may find themselves on the receiving end of them.

But while migrants’ rights are structurally unrepresented in democracies, the right to invite should, in principle, have a domestic constituency. There should be natives who want the right to invite, and for whom politicians’ willingness to supply it would be a factor in their voting decisions. Now, I’ve never heard of the right to invite being an issue in a political campaign in any democracy. You might conclude, then, that this right isn’t really that important to natives. But I think that would be a case of the rational voter fallacy which Bryan Caplan has debunked. People don’t really vote their self-interest, they vote for the common good as apprehended through the lens of lazy, feel-good ideologies. People wrongly believe, without having really thought about it, that it’s good for the government to be “sovereign” in the sense of “controlling our borders,” and they’d probably feel presumption saying, “The government has no right to deport, or keep out, our pianist / our cook / the best candidate for CEO / sorely needed programmers or scientists or engineers. Give us back our freedom! Give us back the right to invite!” But it might be possible to teach people to think that way.

I suppose I even believe in the right to invite, though I wouldn’t stress that in my own philosophy. I would say that people have a general right to self-ownership and natural mobility and not to be coerced; that coercion, always a bit suspect, can only be partly justified in the context of a social contract with a view to protecting rights; and that blocking peaceful migration is not a legitimate use of coercion. A foreigner does not need to be invited by a native in order to have the liberty to enter the territory of a country, such that no one may justly compel him to turn back. Still, if the right to invite were conceded liberally enough by rich-country governments, it could amount to almost the same thing.

And there might be a Tiebout mechanism to encourage the right to migrate. What’s a “Tiebout mechanism?” Well, Tiebout was the theorist who first developed the idea that “voting with the feet” could procure optimal supply of public goods. What I mean here is that governments could conceivably compete with one another by offering high-value individuals and companies the right to invite. Suppose Georgia, say, or Colombia, offered to, say, Google, or Apple, the right to set up labs and factories in their country and invite whomever they wanted to work there? I can easily imagine them building large gated communities there, with private airports, isolating themselves somewhat but paying Colombian or Georgian taxes and generating some positive spillovers, while moving much of their R&D there in order to take advantage of the ability to hire workers from anywhere in the world at will, rather than dealing with the wretched H1-B visa process. Could “the right to invite” become first a selling-point for countries trying to attract foreign investors, later a moral-cum-self-interested cause championed by rich-world voters? At any rate, it can’t hurt to coin the phrase.